High school hairstylists: Inside a long-running cosmetology class

Time to Shine: Students have fun with the teacher Pamela Dittrich and learn about cosmetics, self-care and develop communication skills in cosmetology classes. The program has been running for more than 50 years at St. Mary’s Senior High School in Calgary. (Photo by Lia Pereira/The Press)

Running since the 1960s, the cosmetology program at St. Mary’s High School brings important lessons to students and prepares them for diverse work. 

For many, this classroom brings a bridge between school life and the real world. 

Pamela Dittrich, the program’s teacher for 12 years, considers the course great for developing social relationships as the students have to work on each other.

“They actually have to talk. They have to put their phones down when they are working. They have to learn how to work with clients that aren’t always their own age,” said Dittrich.

Language acquisition was the first reason that brought Hermie Grace Gaguan, 17, to Mrs. Dittrich’s classes.  

A newcomer, Gaguan, originally from Philippines, explains how the program helped her to adapt to a new country, making new friends and also developing skills.

“You can get your creativity and even if you’re not really good at it you can enjoy it,”said Gaguan, while practicing hairstyles on one of the dolls.

“If you’re really going to a party or if your friend needs a makeover you can help them or just have fun with it.”

Among laughs, small talk, hairdryers, and brushes, there is another presence, very essential for the students. 

Working as a cosmetology technician for 25 years, Antonia Lanza has spent the last six years supporting the classes and sharing her knowledge with the future professionals. 

She enjoys working with students on a daily basis and explains that is very impactful.

“It’s a big accomplishment to really see them going from barely being able to hold the comb to do an amazing job with a client,” she said.

In addition to developing communication, confidence and providing the acquisition of new skills, the course is a real career opportunity for some students. 

Laser Focus: Marion Quintin Atutubo, 17, practices his hairstyle skills in a cosmetology class at St Mary’s Senior High School on Feb. 25. (Photo by Lia Pereira/SAIT)

Passionate about arts and drawing, Marion Quintin Atutubo, 17, found his vocation as a hairdresser almost by chance. His elder sister participated in the program at school, pursued a career and encouraged him to take classes.

With a watchful eye and full attention on the scissors, Atutubo tells how the course was a total change for him.

Whether for fun, as support in acquiring a second language or as a gateway to the job market, the course has become increasingly popular with students.

You can get your creativity and even if you’re not really good at it you can enjoy it. – Hermie Gaguan

“This cosmetology course has helped me so much with developing my own skills and helping me find something that would both be something that I enjoy, which is doing hair and also be realistic, as a career choice for me that I could actually like, ” said Atutubo. 

The cosmetology program at St. Mary’s High School offers services for at affordable prices either for students as for outside clients. Clients are served by appointment and can be booked over the phone, by contacting the school directly.